Larry Bodine looks at how and why firms should be marketing to today's millennial generation.
Could there be a better target market for professional services firms than a generation of tech-savvy thirtysomethings who are buying cars, starting families and launching companies? At 75 million strong – about ¼ of the US population – millennials are the largest generation in history, with a spending power projected to reach $1.4 trillion in just four years.
Firms can no longer afford to overlook or avoid marketing to millennial clients, who are shaping world culture wherever they go, sharing their experiences online and viewing your brand to see if it reflects their values.
Reaching them is an art form, because there is a generation gap between them and their parents – the Baby Boom generation. But the effort is entirely worth it, in that engaged millennials will be your brand ambassadors, and few law firms have awakened to the opportunity yet.
Firms that can't keep pace with young people are missing out on a huge market, says Tina Wells, CEO and founder of Buzz Marketing Group. “They definitely have money to spend,” she says.
Reaching young adults is straightforward – for those firms that can adapt. Forget old-school marketing like print advertising, radio spots, internet pop-up ads and direct mail campaigns. This generation loves technology, seeks authenticity and is looking for fun. Millennials pay attention to blogs, videos and social media.
Distinguishing features of this generation are:
- They are digital natives who grew up with the internet always in their lives. They work and play on cell phones. For example, they downloaded the Pokémon Go cell phone game 50 million times in only 15 days (compare that to TV, which took 13 years to reach the 50 million mark).
- They are all over social media. They seek happiness over money and love to share the good times. “They're sharing, liking, pinning, tweeting, snapping, forwarding, and commenting on all of their findings,” says Meaghan Moraes of HubSpot.
- They are socially conscious and expect their advisers to demonstrate corporate responsibility.
- They are visually-oriented and tell stories with pictures more than words. This generation watches how-to videos on YouTube and Vimeo.
“Brands need to stop waiting for millennials to ‘grow up' and fall in line with what past generations have done. A lot of them already have; it just looks different than it did in the past,” says Katie Elfering, Forbes' resident expert on millennials. “Brands and marketers need to shift and adapt to this reality instead of waiting for one that won't come true.”
On the phone, all the time
On average, millennials spend 3.2 hours a day on their mobile devices – the equivalent of 22.4 hours (almost a whole day) every week, according to TNS Connected. And because most consumers go online to look for an adviser, it's time that professional services firms paid serious attention to how their website looks on a portable device.
“There's no excuse not to have a responsive website that adapts instantly to smaller screens,” writes technology blogger Victoria Blute of LawLytics in Tucson, Arizona. “Your next client will likely find your firm on their smartphone.” Not only must your website display perfectly on a 3-inch screen, it should have big buttons, a click-to-call or click-to-email feature, and simple navigation.
The mistake that firms make is to design a desktop website first, and dumb it down for a mobile version. The opposite approach is what's called for: start by designing your website for a mobile device first. Give visitors a ‘mobile moment' that is unique for cell phones – a picture, a story or a download designed for the small screen.
A person visiting your site on a mobile phone probably needs an answer immediately, and doesn't want to be slowed down by your ‘About Us' or ‘Firm History' pages. Think about the trigger that prompts potential clients to visit your mobile site, and give them the immediate response they are looking for.
“No millennials want to read long stuff on a phone. It strains our already overtaxed eyes; it's cumbersome during a busy commute; and it could instantly turn off a prospective client from your firm,” says Kate Stromberg, a millennial who is marketing director of Network Affiliates in Lakewood, Colorado. “Instead, try taking those long-form blogs and in-depth case resource pages and making them easier to chew on via mobile phone.”
Engaging on social media
Millennial consumers trust social media. I was struck to learn from Thomson Reuters that:
- 35% of consumers look up an attorney on Facebook.
- 43% look on LinkedIn for an attorney
- 54% would likely hire a lawyer on social media.
Chances are your firm has a neglected Facebook page and dormant Twitter account. It's time to wake up these channels, because millennials spend an average of 2.3 hours a day engaged with social media, according to TNS Connected.
Millennials expect to be able to share any message quickly through social media. The trick for firms is to develop shareable information. If you can create a meaningful experience, millennials will become messengers for your brand and ambassadors about the experience you provided to them.
For example, the Sinas Dramis personal injury law firm of Grand Rapids, Michigan, sponsored its ‘Lids for Kids' Bike Helmet Giveaway and Safety Event last summer. At the event, the firm gave away 439 bike helmets to children. Each was custom-fitted by trained volunteers to help prevent a brain injury in a bikerelated accident. The event was shared far and wide by young people.
“This audience can spread the good word about your firm, for your firm. Likewise, consider getting your message directly to the top-trending social platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, where a younger generation might be even more inclined to share your story,” Stromberg says.
Millennials expect firms to give back to society. Statistics show that 75% feel it's important that a business gives back to society instead of just making a profit. And millennials want to see their advisers rolling up their shirtsleeves, not just buying a table at a charity event or issuing a press release about supporting pro bono.
For example, if your fee earners are going to read books to children to help them read, let people know about it from the standpoint of “help us help these kids,” don't show yourself off being active in a charity – there is a difference.
Millennials want to feel that a firm is an extension of what they believe in. “Millennials are attracted to brands linked to social causes but are also sensitive to authenticity. Companies need to be thoughtful and genuine about the causes they support in order to be effective,” says Eden Ames of Marketing Health Services.
For example, White and Williams, of Philadelphia, launched its Adopt-a- School Initiative so that lawyers and staff could volunteer their time, finances and resources. At one middle school the firm donated $10,000 toward the purchase of Google Chromebooks for students. At an elementary school the attorneys and staff visit on a monthly basis to read with the students during their breakfast hour. At another school the attorneys donated $5,000 to provide one-on-one reading tutoring for students.
Nothing tells a story better than a picture, and that's what today's millennials want to see. They will be turned off by your list of victories, but they will be enchanted by photos showing your staff in casual situations and office events.
Firms are beginning to catch on to the effectiveness of infographics, and no firm has done it better than d'Oliveira & Associates, of East Providence, which has more than 100 infographics in its online library about auto accidents, dangerous drugs and defective medical devices.
The advantage of a graphically-driven visual aid is that it overcomes the short attention span that many people have when they're online. They are also shareable.
Videos work extremely well with millennials. The Michael O'Connor and Associates of Frackville, Pennsylvania, developed a 30-second TV commercial about mistakes to avoid immediately after an auto accident. There were no lawyers sitting at a desk in front of a bookcase.
The point is to communicate with people via the method that they prefer. There is definitely a place for long-form blog posts and think pieces that will set you off as a thought leader. Millennials also want e-books, white papers and practical downloads. But don't overlook getting your message out visually.
The good news is that many attorneys already have the skills needed to appeal to today's generation. Traits like trustworthiness, honesty and empathy are the elements that connect potential clients to attorneys. Your firm's challenge is to tune in to the generation whose formative events were the 9/11 attack, a recession that hit just as they graduated from college, and decades of student debt. Simply tell a story that reflects their social values, be authentic as you tell it, and present it so that it can be taken in on a mobile phone.
With the right effort, your millennial clients will dial up one of your mobile minded, socially responsible, authentically available fee earners for a classic, in-person consultation.
Larry Bodine is the Senior Legal Marketing Strategist at LawLytics. He is also the Editor of The National Trial Lawyers and Mass Tort Nexus.